It was immediately obvious that here was a turntable whose primary characteristic was unobtrusiveness. And if that sounds like faint praise, then it is intended to be pretty much the opposite – unobtrusive is not a synonym for unimpressive. The Prime Scout wasn’t getting in the way; it didn’t give undue emphasis to any part of the frequency envelope, nor was it putting any obvious constraints on dynamics, rhythmic integrity or timing. ‘Anitra’s Dance’ from the Marriner/St Martin in the Fields account of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Incidental Music [EMI] trips along lightly with a genuine dance-like feel to it, and the way the various parts interact, passing themes back and forth, was very clearly enunciated; ‘Solveigs Song’ had great depth of expression and fluidity. A very promising start which improved steadily as the cartridge settled in.
What this turntable sets out to do is give a hint of the high end, at the sort of price that those of us without investment portfolios, tax consultants, or private banking facilities might aspire to. By and large I think it succeeds admirably, through the simple expedient of letting the music do the communicating, and imposing as little of itself on proceedings as it can. The title track from Famous Blue Raincoat [Cypress Records] created a mood of late night intimacy, almost banal yet surprisingly moving due largely to the unaffected way Jennifer Warnes delivers the song. You can mess this up in two ways, either by failing to pull out the emotional payload at all, or by working too hard to impress with big powerful sonics, and overwhelming the pathos. Ironically, it is the latter trap which many ‘high-end’ turntables fall into. The Prime Scout treads the line in an assured and understated way which inspires confidence.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I like what a good unipivot arm brings to the party. Firstly, of course, they might create a party where one was hitherto unapparent and, like Anitra’s Dance above, Kate Bush’ ‘Jig of Life’ from Hounds of Love [EMI] did bring out that impression of a dance, propulsive but still light on its feet. Again, I’ve heard bigger and ‘better’ turntables than this go large on the drumming and the dynamics, and fail to notice the jig within. Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary, with the Monteverdi Orchestra and choir conducted by John Eliot Gardiner [Erato] is stately and commanding, the VPI arm and table working well together and making following the complex contrapuntal lines easy, while also bringing out the essential humanity present in pieces like ‘Man that is born of woman’. This was not a cerebral, technical presentation either, but got to the heart of the matter without making a big deal of it. Conversely, John Ogdon’s muscular style was never more apparent than in his rendering of the, often overlooked, Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto [EMI] where the VPI created some truly excellent dynamic contrasts, the piano had a good degree of mass and scale and there was a strong impression of structure in the way the orchestral parts were presented. But in the sections where bombast gives way to lightness and frivolity, the turntable showed its admirable ability to simply reflect the material it was given.
VPI itself (among others) recommends the Ortofon 2M Black, so as I had one to hand, this quickly found its way onto the arm once I’d got the measure of the 2M Blue in this setting. Back to the Grieg, and ‘Solveig’s Song’ retained all of its fluidity, but Lucia Popp’s voice was now simply captivating, its beauty, colour and character allied to exquisite phrasing and expressiveness. Kate Bush again, and ‘Jig of Life’ was more layered, with inner detail and definition much more clearly and meaningfully brought out, the percussion and timing was tighter and more resolved. It was abundantly clear that this table and arm was more than capable of supporting a considerably better transducer, should you choose to fit one.
As somebody now attuned to CD, pitch stability is always something I can’t help but notice when playing vinyl and, while the Prime Scout wasn’t exemplary in this regard, it fared very well, and it was only on some sustained notes, and occasional piano, that a very mild warble was ever apparent. No doubt the deeper, heavier platter of the Prime would help a little here. Which brings me to the upgrade options: the Prime Scout can be fitted with the Prime’s heavier platter, and I’ve already mentioned the arm base and 3D arm wand options; with the Prime’s platter comes an opportunity to use the periphery clamp, which I’ve heard used to very good effect on the, considerably more upmarket, VPI HR-X tables. All these options will doubtless let the Prime Scout’s performance approach that of the Prime itself, but if I’m honest, their cost as individual components probably makes this uneconomic, and if that’s your game plan, the Prime, as a package, represents better value when you factor in the price of all those bits it comes with as standard.